Play up the positives

The wet wipes sector is experiencing a dry spell. Although wet wipes are convenient, flexible and relatively inexpensive cleaning and sanitizing options, concerns about their safety and effectiveness are limiting activity in key shopper segments.

Revenues for baby wipes, which consumers primarily use during diaper changes, grew from $1.3 billion in 2009 to $1.5 billion in 2014, reports Euromonitor International, a London-based market research firm. Facial cleaning wipes, meanwhile, saw revenues increase from $245.2 million to $359.4 million from 2009 to 2014, while feminine (intimate) wipes saw sales fall from $47.5 million to $39 million.

Health concerns are having a major impact on sales. Many aestheticians and dermatologists, for instant, state that facial cleaning wipes are inadequate in treating skin in comparison to rinsing and exfoliation, Euromonitor notes in its March 2015 “Wipes in the US” report.

“Opponents of the product say that these wipes simply smear dirt and bacteria around the face and provide the clean feeling’ through fast-evaporating alcohol, which in fact dries out the skin,” Euromonitor states. “However, the product has been called addictive in its ease and convenience, and warnings in the press may not deter women who have already integrated the product into their beauty routines.”

Feminine wipes also are facing opposition. Some gynecologists say the products, which are meant to eliminate odor and “freshen” a woman’s genital area, are potentially disruptive to the natural pH of a woman’s body, Euromonitor notes. Such disruptions can reportedly lead to yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis, conditions which cause the type of vaginal odor that feminine wipes are designed to stop or mask.

“Feminists claim the producers of feminine wipes create a category for the product by first manufacturing body shame and insecurity, then offering a product to fix the artificial problem which has been created,” Euromonitor reports. “Warnings from gynecologists and health professions, as well as negative trade press, are driving the category for feminine wipes further down.”

Listen to the consumer

Despite such issues, many shoppers still favor wet wipes, in part because the products are convenient and relatively inexpensive. Euromonitor notes that personal wipes average 5 cents per sheet, an amount that has been fairly consistent over the last decade.

Many elementary schools, meanwhile, are adding general-purpose and all-purpose wipes to students’ supply lists in an effort to maintain cleaner hands and classrooms, curb absences and maintain a healthier student population, Euromonitor states.

In addition, healthcare professionals advocate using disinfecting wipes in the workplace to reduce the spread of germs, and supermarkets also are keeping wipes in the limelight by dispensing general-purpose products that enable customers to wipe down shopping carts.

Despite the health issues, a large segment of consumers and businesses is embracing wet wipes, and ample opportunities for category expansion remain — particularly if retailers and suppliers respond to the interests of specific shopper segments.

An expanding base of shoppers, for instance, is seeking environmentally friendly or “green” selections. Such products might consist of natural ingredients; be free of chlorine, formaldehyde and phosphates; and boast packages made from renewable or recyclable resources or materials.

“People are more health-conscious and want products that are less harmful to themselves and the environment,” says a spokesperson for U.S. Nonwovens Corp., a Commack, N.Y-based supplier of wipes for the personal and home care sectors.

Other potentially active segments include elderly persons who are seeking to treat adult incontinence and prevent infections, and the many millennials who want affordable and quick cleaning solutions.

“Millennials have grown up as the ‘convenience’ generation, and convenience is their primary way of life,” states William Lutz, vice president of sales and marketing for Premier Care Industries Inc., a Hauppauge, N.Y.-based wet wipes manufacturer.

A large playing field

Indeed, unlike many other cleaning products, wet wipes can attract buyers from a wide range of categories, notes Patricia Raggi, vice president of marketing services for Nice-Pak Products Inc., an Orangeburg, N.Y.-based supplier of wipes for household and personal use.

“There is almost limitless growth potential as consumers can use the products at home, work, on the go and for babies through adults,” she states. “People are looking to do things quicker, and wet wipes are a one-step solution in comparison to using a pump bottle spray and dry paper towel for cleaning,”

To draw greater attention to private label selections, Raggi says retailers should offer in-store samplings; situate items in relevant sections throughout the store to generate impulse purchases; and include product-specific wet wipe coupons or samples packaged with complementary products. Baby wipe boxes, for instance, could contain literature or coupons for facial or floor wipes.

Packaging also can be a key vehicle for conveying product attributes such as softness, durability, efficiency and non-irritating ingredients. It is important however, that retailers just feature the most important messages on boxes to avoid clutter.

“The major challenge is to convey to consumers that the store brands are of as high quality as the national brands,” Raggi says.

To best spotlight their private label selections, retailers should merchandise the items in eye-catching packaging that is attractive enough to be kept on kitchen and bathroom counters or makeup vanities, the U.S. Nonwovens spokesperson says.

Retailers should also make it simple for shoppers to compare products by situating store brands alongside national brands on shelves, while using signage to call out the unique private label features, the spokesperson states. Pricing that is equivalent to or better than the national brands also will make the products more attractive, he adds.

Keep suppliers in the loop

Suppliers also can be an important source of merchandising acumen — provided retailers are receptive to input.

“Most suppliers would look forward to working closely with retailers in growing their respective categories,” Lutz states. “But the retailers need to open themselves up to new innovative concepts and ideas and be willing to share what they are attempting to achieve strategically.”

Such interaction will enable retailers to tailor programs to the specific needs of their shopper bases.

The aim is to produce products that have the optimal packaging, formulations, SKU counts and pricing, Raggi notes.

“The most successful programs are the result of joint efforts by suppliers and retailers with a goal of providing an innovative and well-rounded product portfolio,” she states. “To grow profits, the parties need to examine the totality of the category, analyze the role of the national and store brands and offer private label selections that generate loyalty and make the store a destination for wet wipes.”

The rate of category growth, meanwhile, will be dependent on the level of product innovation, as well as the ability of retailers and suppliers to meet the growing consumer demand for environmentally sustainable products, Raggi says.

Eventually, however, there will be a wider range of diverse and functional selections, the U.S. Nonwovens spokesperson states.

“As companies continue to develop niche wet wipes, there will soon be one for every use and every consumer,” the spokesperson adds.

Don’t miss the opportunity to promote store brand wet wipes via sampling or couponing.

Do consider consumers’ desire for “greener” wet wipe formulations.

Do call out positive wet wipe attributes on pack, but dont overdo it.

Don’t miss the chance to partner with suppliers in the name of wet wipe innovation.